Friday, June 13, 2014

An Observation

Looking back through ChemBark's and my own surveys for new chemistry faculty, I'm a bit gobsmacked.
Sunlight through leaves, 2014

Unless I'm miscounting, 86 faculty were hired in the general chemistry space over the past year, and 86 again for last season. Now, I'm willing to admit that we haven't caught everyone hired over the past 2 years; heck, I'm even willing to suggest that the actual figure might double.

So, let's say that, according to our bloggy survey, 172 new faculty start every year in Chemistry-themed fields. Is that a lot? No, not according to the 2012 NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates. This study claims that U.S. schools graduated 2,418 Chemistry doctorates. Of those, only about half knew what they were going to do after graduation - their "definite commitment."

According to some more NSF numbers, almost a third of all physical science students go on to careers in "Academe." Perhaps this category catches new professors, adjuncts, non-tenure-track, and postdocs alike? (Leigh did this analysis much better than I!). For chemistry, NSF heard only 113 definite commitments in 2012 for non-postdoctoral academic employment. Even if we (generously) assume that they're all professors, that's only 5%!

Sadly, this number jives well with what our bloggy "New Hires" survey* captures. I'm seeing 7%, which is still a far cry from the 20% Ethan Perlstein suggests for the life sciences, or the NSF's 26% for chemistry.

Compare that against the 800 or so folks (33%) reporting postdoc landing spots. Or the 712 (29%) reporting that they're "seeking employment or study."
I guess professorships truly are the new alternative career.

*I'm fully willing to admit that NSF has statisticians, education specialists, and a tried-and-true method, whilst we have folks chiming in over the Internets. Still, I'd be typing a lot more if I'd've received 600 names instead of just under 100.


  1. What percentage of names entered in your survey were hired at non-Ph.D. granting universities? That might explain some of the gap between the NSF numbers and the CB/JLC surveys.

  2. Yeah, there are a lot of PUIs! (I was hired last year at a PUI and didn't put my name on the chembark list)

    1. I certainly don't mean to discount the number of PUIs, but I'm not sure how best to count 'em. Do you think there's more than I've estimated? (roughly twice what we'd captured on the blogs?) If so, I'll adjust.

    2. Two relevant factlets: from Wikipedia's entry on higher-ed in the US:

      As of 2011, the latest figures available in 2014, the US has a total of 4,599 Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions: 2,870 4-year institutions and 1,729 2-year institutions.[1]

      From Wikipedia's entry on R1 universities:

      There are 108 institutions that are classified as "RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity)"... There are 99 institutions that are classified as "RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity)" in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.[3]...There are 90 institutions classified as "DRU: Doctoral/Research Universities" in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.[4] These institutions carry out research, but not to the extent of high or very high research activity institutions.

      In this regard, I believe the CB/JLC annual list captures a healthy quantity (50-75%) of the annual openings at R1 schools, but a relative minority of all available chemistry faculty positions.

      That said, I don't know for sure. I'm still well on the "towards" part of the "towards a quantitative understanding of the quality of the chemistry job market."